On Data Interoperability: Interview with Julie Lockner
Roberto Zicari, editor of the ODBMS Industry Watch blog, recently interviewed Julie Lockner, who leads data platform product marketing for InterSystems. This blog was previously published on ODBMS Industry Watch and is reprinted here with permission.
Roberto Zicari: Everybody is talking about Big Data. Is the term obsolete?
Julie Lockner: Well, there is no doubt that the sheer volume of data is exploding, especially with the proliferation of smart devices and the Internet of Things (IoT). An overlooked aspect of IoT is the enormous volume of data generated by a variety devices, and how to connect, integrate and manage it all.
The real challenge, though, is not just processing all that data, but extracting useful insights from the variety of device types. Put another way, not all data is created using a common standard. You want to know how to interpret data from each device, know which data from what type of device is important, and which trends are noteworthy. Better information can create better results when it can be aggregated and analyzed consistently, and that’s what we really care about. Better, higher quality outcomes, not bigger data.
Roberto Zicari: If not Big Data, where do we go from here?
Julie Lockner: We always want to be focusing on helping our customers build smarter applications to solve real business challenges, such as helping them to better compete on service, roll out high-quality products quicker, simplify processes – not build solutions in search of a problem. A canonical example is in retail. Our customers want to leverage insight from every transaction they process to create a better buying experience online or at the point of sale. This means being able to aggregate information about a customer, analyze what the customer is doing while on the website, and make an offer at transaction time that would delight them. That’s the goal – a better experience – because that is what online consumers expect.
From a healthcare perspective, how can we aggregate all the medical data, in all forms from multiple sources, such as wearables, home medical devices, MRI images, pharmacies and so on, and also blend in intelligence or new data sources, such as genomic data, so that doctors can make better decisions at the point of care? That implies we are analyzing not just more data, but better data that comes in all shapes and sizes, and that changes more frequently. It really points to the need for data interoperability.
Roberto Zicari: What are the challenges software developers are telling you they have in today’s data-intensive world?
Julie Lockner: That they have too many database technologies to choose from and prefer to have a simple data platform architecture that can support multiple data models and multiple workloads within a single development environment.
We understand that our customers need to build applications that can handle a vast increase in data volume, but also a vast array of data types – static, non-static, local, remote, structured and non-structured. It must be a platform that coalesces all these things, brings services to data, offers a range of data models, and deals with data at any volume to create a more stable, long-term foundation. They want all of these capabilities in one platform – not a platform for each data type.
For software developers today, it’s not enough to pick elements that solve some aspect of a problem and build enterprise solutions around them; not all components scale equally. You need a common platform without sacrificing scalability, security, resilience, rapid response. Meeting all these demands with the right data platform will create a successful application.
And the development experience is significantly improved and productivity drastically increased when they can use a single platform that meets all these needs. This is why they work with InterSystems.
Roberto Zicari: Traditionally, analytics is used with structured data, “slicing and dicing” numbers. But the traditional approach also involves creating and maintaining a data warehouse, which can only provide a historical view of data. Does this work also in the new world of Internet of Things?
Julie Lockner: I don’t think so. It is generally possible to take amorphous data and build it into a structured data model, but to respond effectively to rapidly changing events, you need to be able to take data in the form in which it comes to you.
If your data platform lacks certain fields, if you lack schema definition, you need to be able to capitalize on all these forms without generating a static model or a refinement process. With a data warehouse approach, it can take days or weeks to create fully cleansed, normalized data.
That’s just not fast enough in today’s always-on world – especially as machine-generated data is not conforming to a common format any time soon. It comes back to the need for a data platform that supports interoperability.
Roberto Zicari: How hard is it to make decisions based on real-time analysis of structured and unstructured data?
Julie Lockner: It doesn’t have to be hard. You need to generate rules that feed rules engines that, in turn, drive decisions, and then constantly update those rules. That is a radical enhancement of the concept of analytics in the service of improving outcomes, as more real-time feedback loops become available.
The collection of changes we describe as Big Data will profoundly transform enterprise applications of the future. Today we can see the potential to drive business in new ways and take advantage of a convergence of trends, but it is not happening yet. Where progress has been made is the intelligence of devices and first-level data aggregation, but not in the area of services that are needed. We’re not there yet.
Roberto Zicari: What’s next on the horizon for InterSystems in meeting the data platform requirements of this new world?
Julie Lockner: We continually work on our data platform, developing the most innovative ways we can think of to integrate with new technologies and new modes of thinking. Interoperability is a hugely important component. It may seem a simple task to get to the single most pertinent fact, but the means to get there may be quite complex. You need to be able to make the right data available – easily – to construct the right questions.
Data is in all forms and at varying levels of completeness, cleanliness, and accuracy. For data to be consumed as we describe, you need measures of how well you can use it. You need to curate data so it gets cleansed and you can cull what is important. You need flexibility in how you view data, too. Gathering data without imposing an orthodoxy or structure allows you to gain access to more data. Not all data will conform to a schema a priori.
Roberto Zicari: Recently you conducted a benchmark test of an application based on InterSystems Caché®. Could you please summarize the main results you have obtained?
Julie Lockner: One of our largest customers is Epic Systems, one of the world’s top healthcare software companies. Epic relies on InterSystems Caché as the data platform for electronic medical record solutions serving more than half the U.S. patient population and millions of patients worldwide.
Epic tested the scalability and performance improvements of Caché version 2015.1. Almost doubling the scalability of prior versions, Caché delivers what Epic President Cark Dvorak has described as “a key strategic advantage for our user organizations that are pursuing large-scale medical informatics programs as well as aggressive growth strategies in preparation for the volume-to-value transformation in healthcare.”
Roberto Zicari: Anything else you wish to add?
Julie Lockner: The reason why InterSystems has succeeded in the market for so many years is a commitment to the success of those who depend on our technology. A recent Gartner Magic Quadrant report found we had the highest number of customers surveyed – 85% – who would buy from us again. That is the highest number of any vendor participating in that study.
The foundation of the company’s culture is all about helping our customers succeed. When our customers come to us with a challenge, we all pitch in to solve it. Many times our solutions may address an unusual problem that could benefit others – which then becomes the source of many of our innovations. It is one of the ways we are using problem-solving skills as a winning strategy to benefit others. When our customers are successful at using our engine to solve the world’s most important challenges, we all win.
InterSystems blogs are authored by members of the InterSystems team as well as guest bloggers. Our blogs will provide a range of opinions that we hope you will find useful, engaging, informative – and fun to read.